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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has clubbed former senator Farhatullah Babar’s petition with others, which have challenged Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 2022.

The PPP leader has filed a constitutional writ petition, through Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman, challenging Section 20 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). Section 20 criminalises defamation. The petition has been fixed for hearing on Monday before Chief Justice Athar Minallah.

The petitioner contended that the impugned section 20 is overly broad and vague. It includes within its amount “any information” through “any information system”. As a result, the public’s right to speech and right to know are directly affected. Information of all kinds is targeted by the Impugned Section.

The petitioner stated that the Impugned Section essentially limits free speech on account of defamation.

Defamation is already punishable under other laws and there is no reason to curtail free speech under an overly broad and vague definition of defamation.

He submitted that the Impugned Section requires that information be known as “false”, but does not make any distinction between news and opinions, or discussion or advocacy as opposed to incitement of an offence. The expression “false information” is not defined, and apart from being vague, this term is also overly broad.

It is vital to note that the civil society, human rights groups, journalists, media organizations, activists, and watchdogs for civil rights, and the Superior Bar councils of the country have consistently voiced concerns about the abuse and chilling effect of the Section 20 PECA on the fundamental rights of freedom speech and expression, especially political speech.

The petitioner has also argued that the criminal defamation is utilised to muzzle political dissent and undermine media freedom.

The petitioner has contended that through the Section 20 FIA has exercised broad and sweeping powers affecting the fundamental rights of citizens. Section 20 powers are dictatorial and have no place in a democratic society.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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